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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Andrew, Frenze

Frenze

Frenze porch window (16th Century) Frenze

  St Andrew, Frenze

We are a stone's throw from the Suffolk border, and Frenze church sits barely any distance at all from Diss railway station, but it is remote, across the fields hidden in a copse of trees. To reach it, you need to head out of Diss and journey almost a mile from the nearest road. From a country lane signposted somewhat unpromisingly to Diss Business Centre, you soon reach clear rolling country, and at a bend in the road a concrete track heads off to Frenze Hall. If you have ever visited Frenze church, or even read about it, I'm sure it wouldn't be possible to pass the end of this track without turning off on it.

Not for the first time, I failed to resist one Thursday morning in the furnace heat of early August 2018. I freewheeled down the track through the woods and then upwards until eventually, the track came out into an empty farmyard, apparently abandoned, although the farm house is still occupied. In one corner of the yard, on a rise behind an old wooden fence, sits the church of St Andrew, Frenze. As lovely as ever, the door wide open, the only slightly jarring note being the big 'church open' sign outside - is that necessary? Surely nobody is just passing here, and anyone who has made the trip specially is going to try the door anyway, aren't they?

St Andrew is a curious looking structure. Effectively, it is just the small nave of a formerly longer church, propped up but still leaning all over the place. You step through the red brick porch, not ostentatious but full of the self-importance of the end of the medieval period, into a soft grey light falling on bare wood and stone.

Although the font and a few other features survive from medieval times, the overwhelming flavour of the inside is of the 17th century, a silvery white family pew facing across to its partner pulpit, clearly by the same hand. The church is so obviously redundant, and perhaps because of this is charged more intensely with the past of this tiny parish more than its present. Now in the tender care of the Churches Conservation Trust, this would just be a beautiful, unspoiled hidden corner of Norfolk if it were not for one very curious thing - this church has no less than seven figure brasses, more than just about any other church in East Anglia, as well as other memorial inscriptions. An extraordinary find in such a place.

They are all between eighteen and twenty-four inches tall. Mostly, they are to the Blenerhaysett, or Blennerhassett, family and their relatives - a most un-East Anglian name. In the Paston letters, Sir John scoffs that Ralph Blenerhaysett is a name to start a hare. They came from Cumbria, and were Lords of the Manor here. Six of the figures are still in situ on the floor. They are vowess Joan Braham, died 1519, in cloak and girdle, Jane Blenerhaysett, 1521, in kennel headdress, John Blenerhaysett, her husband, also 1521, in armour, with sword, the already mentioned Ralph Blenerhaysett, 1475, in full mail. Then there is an exquisite shroud brass to Thomas Hobson, and Anne Duke, also in a kennel headress. Other inscriptions also survive, and there are replicas of others on the wall. As I say, extraordinary stuff.

Even if there were no brasses, you would want to come here. Everything is simple, but touched down the long years - the plain altar, bears a medieval mensa. Surviving boards from a Stuart royal arms have been collected together and hang above the south door. There are two piscinas set into windowsills, one each side of the nave. Two smug little monkeys on a single bench stare out at all of this. What a special place.

Simon Knott, August 2018

   

looking east up at the holy end font
pulpit (17th Century) and stall (15th Century) Stuart royal arms (partial) family pew (17th Century) pulpit (17th Century) and stall (15th Century)
Johanna Braham, 1519 Ann Duke in kennel headdress Thomas Hobson shroud brass Jane Blenehaysett, 1521 John Blenehayset, 1521
Frenze Frenze Frenze
prayy for the soule of Jane Blenhaysett

harmonium crucified

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk